I hopped a Stray Bus out of Auckland and the further away from the city we got, New Zealand just got better and better. The rolling hills and green landscape are reminiscent of Ireland, but not quite – It’s so much more majestic and pure, un-littered by the smell of coal burning fires and untarnished by the constant rain. Though, it is said they can have four seasons in one day here, but with summer so close that’s bound to change. The skies are often wide open and blue except for a few white wisps that hang out on the ever-changing horizon threatening to ruin the day. The terrain on the north part of the island is diverse which makes for winding roads and twists turns up and down numerous hills and canyons past endless forests filled with California Pine, Manuka, Tea Tree, palm and other tress, countless rivers and streams, and an array of dormant and decaying volanoes only adding to this lush landscape. I catch myself smiling for no reason as I gaze out the bus window. I’m in New Zealand, and then I ponder what else could possibly be more beautiful than where I am now. Everyone says don’t bother with the north island. They say it’s weak and it’s crap and there’s nothing worth seeing. I can only imagine what I will see when I’m down south.
The first bus I’m on is loaded mainly with German, Irish, English, four Canadians, a few stray Dutch, Danish and one American. As per the travel company’s selling point, we’ve all introduced ourselves and become good friends in the two days time we hung out, but we won’t all be doing the whole journey together. The company allows its passengers to jump on and off at various stops for any number of nights until the pass expires 12 months from the first day of travel. We just have to book in advance to ensure that the bus we want to get on isn’t full. I’m quite looking forward to leaving the bus because it is such an enormous bus. They usually boast mini buses that seat about 20 people for a closer adventure, but this first one sat 40. Ah, but it was good times and I will miss the people I met.
The first adventure of the trip brought us to Hahei, a coastal village on the north shore. The sun came out and a group of us all stripped down to our togs and headed for the golden shores to do the hour-long hike to Cathedral Cove, walking up numerous hills until our calves burned. Timing it with the crashing surf, we slipped through the cave unscathed only to splash in the water when we got to the other side. If this were California the beach would be packed, but there are only a handful of souls who wound their way here.
We had a barbeque then went to Hot Water Beach where the earth’s crust is so thin the water actually boils. People build holes in the sand and mix the sea water with the hot water and lie there reaping its therapeutic properties. At times the water and sand were so hot that some people were doing the dance of hot toes.
The second adventure took us over to Raglan, the surf capital of New Zealand, back through the “windies,” across the plains and then over the Devinations, a local name for more “windies.” Here is where I spend three days learning to surf in the ice-cold water (thank God for wet suits) and relaxing in what could very well be paradise. The ocean next door, a forest unspoiled, a free zip-line, surf lessons, hammocks outside the door, and even more crazy, no locks on the doors in this backpackers. It mush be paradise. I have no cell reception, the Internet is crazy slow and expensive, but it pushes me to explore this little area. I tried surfing and my back is in bits, but it didn’t stop me from trying again the next day and with much more success. My back still hurts though. Ibuprofren has become my friend. And despite one great party night up in the sports barn here at Kaori Lodge, I have decided to lay off the booze for a while and get some much-needed rest. Everything here is hilly, as previously stated, so every walk involves burning calf muscles – though I must say, I’m getting used to it.
Tomorrow I’m off to Maketu for a traditional hangi with Maori hosts.